Karin DeRuosi, who works as a physical therapist with children at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Huntingdon Valley, holds up the suit she just received that will enable Santa to visit with sick children.

Karin DeRuosi, who works as a physical therapist with children at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Huntingdon Valley, holds up the suit she just received that will enable Santa to visit with sick children.

by Barbara Sherf

Santa came early to Ambler resident Karin DeRuosi and the children at Holy Redeemer Hospital Pediatric Rehabilitation Center, thanks to an Oreland woman who played Santa for 30 years at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Several years ago, when Sharon Cox was faced with getting a drug test, background check and fingerprinting to come into the hospital, she decided to hang up Santa and the suit she had won in 1999 on the Richard Simmons show. Simmons is a fitness TV personality who was very popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and who helped Cox lose a lot of weight and granted her wish of getting a new Santa suit that fit.

“It was crazy. With HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and all of the new requirements, it just didn’t seem worth the effort, so I stopped playing Santa. The suit hung in the closet for several years, and I decided it was time to give it a new home,” said Cox, 57, who was friendly with Simmons and who filled out a “Dream Makers” request form asking for a new Santa suit after she lost 115 pounds in the late ‘90s through his popular exercise program.

Lo and behold, she was given a plush velour Santa suit worth well over $3000, and after being in the audience for a taping of the show, she brought it home with her from Los Angeles in 2006.

Recently, Cox contacted Mike Fisher of Ambler, who publishes a free monthly newspaper called The Enterprise. Fisher published a photo of Cox in costume and a brief story about how she was looking to donate the suit to a good cause.

Six eager applicants e-mailed Cox, seeking Santa’s suit. “The responses were varied. I received e-mails from organizations like the Horsham Athletic Club to the Visiting Nurses Community Service division in Abington,” said Cox. “I wish I had six suits to give out.”

After consulting with her family and friends, it soon became clear that the suit would go to DeRuosi, 50, who works as a physical therapist with children at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Huntingdon Valley. Santa also made the rounds at the daycare center housed in the hospital.

“I asked a few of them how many families and children were involved, and when she told me the about the children in pediatric rehab and the autistic children they served, I knew the suit had found a great home. The icing on the cake was that they were also going to use the suit in the daycare center.”

DeRuosi, 50, was shocked and thrilled with the news.

“It was after Thanksgiving,” she said, “and we were late in scheduling our holiday events. We knew we wanted to include Santa, but we had no clue how to make that happen. I came home from work that day and was thumbing through the mail and saw the ad for the Santa suit. The timing was right.”

DeRuosi sent a long e-mail to Cox detailing how the suit would be used, and then she waited and waited and waited. “I kept checking my e-mail and my spam folder every couple of hours at first, hoping that the Santa suit would come to me. About a week later, I got the phone call from Sharon. You’d have thought I’d won the lottery,” said DeRuosi, who had nearly given up hope. “I really didn’t have a backup plan. It was a stressful week.”

DeRuosi went to pick up the suit in Oreland early this month. “It was sad giving up the suit,” said Cox, “but I felt good that it was going to continue to make some sick kids smile. The suit came to me at no cost, so I felt good about paying it forward and seeing someone else start a new tradition.”

On Dec. 15 and 16, Santa met individually for a full 10 minutes privately with children and their families at Holy Redeemer Hospital. The Haggerty family, of Philadelphia’s Pine Valley section, were thrilled to have met with Santa. Ryan, 7, is autistic and cannot tolerate waiting in line for Santa. The family have tried for years to make it work at the mall, but the challenge of waiting in line and external noise and crowds make it very difficult for Ryan to participate.

So Ryan’s mother, Krista Haggerty, called to say what a brilliant idea having Santa at Pediatric Rehab was, and she was thrilled to know there was a time slot available that she could bring Ryan. She was even more excited that his younger twin siblings, Matthew, 12, and Katelyn, 7 (Ryan’s twin sister), could be in the picture too. She now has a picture with all three kids with Santa, and Ryan is smiling.

“Santa at the mall was a big heartache and headache for us in the past” said Krista, “so this was a gift to me and our family.”

DeRuosi was humbled by being able to make the gift of Santa happen for children who might have difficulty sitting on Santa’s lap or going into a large shopping mall.

“Having this opportunity speaks to the heart of why we, as pediatric therapists, do our jobs: to help kids participate as fully as possible in whatever they choose, whether that is visiting Santa or running in a 5K,” said DeRuosi. “What started as a ‘wish list idea’ a month ago is now a reality. I guess that’s what Santa does best.”

Cox was thrilled to hear the Santa suit found a special new home and had the last word.

“Thanks to all and to all a good night.”

Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf tells stories for a living. She can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com or 215-990-9317.